A pastor I know emphasized spiritual formation. He wanted his people to know and practice spiritual disciplines like meditation, fasting, solitude, and confession. His church embraced the disciplines, but also turned inward. When he left, the church expressed a desire to de-emphasize the disciplines and focus on evangelism.
Spiritual disciplines shouldn’t be antithetical to evangelism. In his new book, Habits for Our Holiness, Philip Nation argues that spiritual disciplines should express our love for God, foster a greater display of his glory in our lives, and increase our understanding of God’s character and agenda. In other words, spiritual disciplines should lead us to mission. “When we love him deeply, he will form us to mirror his heart; and he has a missionary heart,” writes Nation.
Nation’s list of disciplines isn’t novel. He includes worship, Bible study, prayer, fasting, fellowship, rest, simple living, servanthood, and submission. He adds a couple of disciplines that focus on our impact on others: spiritual leadership and disciple-making.
Nation shows how every discipline connects with mission:
- worship gives an opportunity for the unbelieving world to see the celebration of the gospel;
- Bible study allows us to learn, grow, and then serve the world together;
- prayer gives us a sense of God’s mission, informs our role in his mission, teaches us perseverance in faith, and seeks his reign in our communities;
- fasting is a witness to the world, and reveals what part of our lives is getting in the way of mission;
- fellowship reminds us that mission is meant to take place in community;
- rest is a testimony to the world of our security found in Christ, and a testimony of deliverance from self-reliance;
- simple living allow us to stand out from the cultural norm, and to develop generosity and contentment;
- servanthood helps us to engage the world, and to serve as a signpost that points people to Jesus;
- submission makes servanthood possible, and transforms us to showpieces of his grace;
- spiritual leadership helps us guide others to surrender to and participate in God’s mission; and
- disciple-making ties all the other disciplines together, and invites others to follow God with love.
Habits for Our Holiness is different from other books I’ve read on the spiritual disciplines. It emphasizes practicing the disciplines in community, and demonstrates that the disciplines should lead us to mission.
If the way we practice the spiritual disciplines doesn’t lead us to mission, something is wrong. I’m grateful to Nation for reminding us, and for showing us how to practice the disciplines in a way that expresses our love for God, fosters a greater display of his glory in our lives, and leads us to his character and agenda.